The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and do not represent AUJS’ position or viewpoint on the topic in any way. This article is designed to merely stimulate discussion and encourage respectful debate. 

This piece is written by Liam O'Callaghan 

Politics is in my blood. Growing up my parents were unionists and Labor members and the national, council and state political scene dominated discussions around our small and crowded dinner table. My brothers, sister and I were inculcated with an understanding of politics and the shared experiences of our family taught me that government could be life changing. My parents were the first people in their family’s history to ever attend university. When my grandfather passed away from cancer Medicare didn’t exist and my Nan was forced to sell the family home. When my father was diagnosed with the same illness he was able to keep his small business, receive free health care and recover safely thanks to the new regional cancer centre built by the Gillard Government and the Medicare reforms introduced by Whitlam and then Hawke.

But why participate, why get involved? Can we really change politics? As I write this article there hangs a particularly dark pall over Canberra and the poor culture many Australians believe our politics operates in. Many would-be staffers, activists and students see the rumours and have resolved to steer clear. I can only relate my experiences, nearly all of which have been positive. My work in politics has allowed me to see parts of Australia I never dreamed of, from Tweed Heads to Griffith, from islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria to brand new developments in South West Sydney and the halls of Parliament House. I’ve worked on every kind of campaign you can think of and met politicians, activists, community leaders from all walks of life to build bridges and build a better country.

We Jews form around 0.4% of the Australian population and our unique culture and religion is unknown to most Australians. For our community’s needs to be truly understood by those in power we need to be in the room. Jews have been involved in politics since before Federation and for our political safety and security we should continue that proud tradition. Parliament should be truly representative of our multicultural and diverse nation and we need to be involved at every level to make our voices heard.

So be involved. Follow your instincts and values and volunteer for SRC campaigns, your local party branches or for pressure groups like GetUp! Democracy is a participatory sport and the only way to make your voice mean more than the other millions of Australia voters is to get out there and be involved. The connections and friends you meet will often be lifelong.

I always remember the experiences of Abner Mikvah, a Jewish US Congressman, White House Counsel and mentor to Obama, when he first went to volunteer for a campaign. He related that:

“I walked in and I said "I'd like to volunteer to work for [Adlai] Stevenson and [Paul] Douglas." This quintessential Chicago ward committeeman took the cigar out of his mouth and glared at me and said, "Who sent you?" I said, "Nobody sent me." He put the cigar back in his mouth and he said, "We don't want nobody that nobody sent."

In politics you are either at the table or on it. Be involved, be known and be heard and you’ll have the journey of a lifetime.

Liam O’Callaghan is a former Treasurer of AUJS USYD and is currently a Director of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and an advisor and speechwriter to a Federal Labor Senator.